“You don’t go into the darkness without the darkness going into you,” Michael Connelly says in his novel, A Darkness More Than Night. It is one of the very interesting and highly successful murder mysteries Connelly has written. In this book and several other books, Connelly’s characters also talk about “lost light,” an unexpected and unexplained light that allows them to see and find their way in the dark.
The darkness that Connelly is writing about is more moral than physical. He is writing about evil.
Connelly certainly shows no evidence of Christian faith in his books (although he apparently went to a Catholic high school), but in A Darkness More Than Night his characters talk about looking for “the hand of God” and the possibility of divine retribution coming to evildoers even if they escape human justice. The hero of many of his books is Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, named after an enigmatic 16th-century Christian artist who often depicted the judgment of God on sinful humanity.
Other semi-religious images also occur in Connelly’s books. For instance, in City of Bones, Bosch is disturbed by seeing a pile of bones, all that is left of an abused boy. Connelly writes, “He bent down and used his hands to cup cold water against his face and eyes. He thought about baptisms and second chances. Of renewal. He raised his face until he was looking at himself again. I’m going to get this guy.”
Bosch also talks about “blue religion” (the moral code and sense of purpose of police officers). He has a sense that he has been “called” to his profession, that his purpose in life is to catch murderers, although who it is who has done the calling is never made clear.
In City of Bones, a medical examiner named Golliher tries to convince Bosch that it is necessary to believe in God and that the badly abused and murdered boy is now in “a better place than this.” Golliher continues, “This is why you must believe…If this boy did not go from this world to a higher plane, to something better, then…then I think we’re all lost.”
Golliher later says that he has come to believe that there is an invisible framework to life that “holds us together.” He says, “When I meet someone who carries a void in the place where I carry my faith, I get scared for him.” I doubt if any Christian could have said it better.
Bosch does not become a believer in God. But he does say, “You’re wrong about me. I have faith and I have a mission. Call it blue religion, call it whatever you like. It’s the belief that…those bones came out of the ground for a reason. That they came out of the ground for me to find, and for me to do something about. And that’s what holds me together and keeps me going.”
At the end of City of Bones, Bosch resigns from the police force, fearing that “he would be lost without his job and his badge and his mission.”
However, in the next book, Lost Light, Bosch realizes, “My mission remained intact. My job in this world, badge or no badge, was to stand for the dead.” And Bosch eventually returns to the police force.
One of the reasons that I write and read murder mysteries is that they are one form of writing that takes the existence of evil and the reality of right and wrong seriously. As Agatha Christie’s hero, Hercule Poirot, used to say, “Murder is wrong.” In our age of moral confusion, that is refreshing. It is itself perhaps “lost light.”
Michael Connelly does not profess faith in God any more than Bosch does. But, like Bosch, he has a sense of having a mission and a calling, in his case to writing. The writing process, he said in an interview, “comes out of the mystical element…In many ways I’m not really sure how it happens, how that mystical element of creating works. It’s sacred and, therefore, I work at it and safeguard it.”
Incidentally, A Darkness More Than Night was published in 2001, City of Bones in 2002, and Lost Light in 2003, but I only read them recently. Most books written today make almost all of their sales in the first six months. After a couple of years, you can’t even find them in bookstores. But they continue to hang on in libraries and used bookstores. It is a reminder that while fads quickly come and go, good books—especially those that deal with eternal and cosmic themes—are timeless. They are worth reading even if they are old.